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Two F-16s Chase Runaway Surveillance Blimp Over Pennsylvania

© Flickr / Jack and Petra ClaytonThis surveillance blimp is one of eight aerostats deployed along the U.S. southern border.
This surveillance blimp is one of eight aerostats deployed along the U.S. southern border. - Sputnik International
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NORAD’s surveillance blimp program has been criticized as useless, expensive, and ineffectual. Apparently no one knows this more than the blimps themselves, with one busting loose in Maryland. After going on the lam across the East Coast, it has reportedly touched down, taking out local power.

Moored at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, one of the JLENS surveillance blimps has broken free, prompting a slow-speed chase by two F-16 jets. NORAD confirms that the balloon has now reportedly landed near a school in Pennsylvania, knocking out power for approximately 21,000 people, according to Newsweek.

Drifting over Pennsylvania at an altitude of 16,000 feet, the blimp was also dragging a 6,700 feet of cable.

NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek said the command is working with multiple agencies to "addresss the safe recovery of the aerostat," according to the Baltimore Sun. Authorities are also warning anyone who spots the craft to stay at a safe distance and call 911.

 

The 243-foot long helium blimp is meant to use its onboard sensors to detect incoming cruise missiles as part of the $2.7 billion program. Part of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Sensor System (JLENS), the blimps scan continuously in a wide circle to detect incoming threats. But critics have dubbed it a “zombie” program, one with little benefit, but which has little chance of ending.

And given that JLENS, so far, only includes two blimps, NORAD lost track of 50% of its program.

According to a LinkedIn job posting, Raytheon, the blimps' manufacturer, began searching for a "Watch Stander" to keep on eye on JLENS equipment only 20 hours ago. Evidently that position went unfilled.

 

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